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Tsunami watch for Hawaii lifted after quake jolts Philippines

By Star-Advertiser staff

and Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 9:25 a.m. HST, Aug 31, 2012

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii has canceled a tsunami watch that was issued briefly early this morning after a 7.6 earthquake struck the Philippines. The earthquake killed at least one person in a house collapse in the southern Philippines, knocked out power in several towns and spurred panic about a tsunami that ended up generating only tiny waves.

"Based on all available data there is no destructive tsunami threat to the state of Hawaii therefore the tsunami watch for Hawaii is cancelled," the warning center said in a statement. "However, some coastal areas in Hawaii could experience small non-destructive sea-level changes and strong or unusual currents lasting up to several hours." The estimated time such effects might begin is 12:28 p.m., officials said.

A tsunami alert originally was issued for several countries including Japan and for Pacific islands as far away as the Northern Marianas, but most of them were soon lifted, leaving warnings only for the Philippines, Indonesia and Palau, the center said.

Those warnings were also canceled after very small tsunami waves of just over an inch were recorded along the eastern Philippine coast near Legazpi city and another nearby location. 

The quake struck at a depth of 21.7 miles, 66 miles east-southeast of Samar and 465 miles southeast of Manila at about 8:47 p.m. in Manila (2:47 a.m. in Hawaii), according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The magnitude, initially reported at magnitude 7.9, was revised to 7.6, according to the USGS.

The tsunami watch for Hawaii was issued at 2:57 a.m. in Hawaii and canceled at 3:31 a.m.

In the Philippines, officials warned residents to be on the alert for aftershocks.

“Don’t sleep, especially those in the eastern seaboard ... because there might be aftershocks,” said Benito Ramos, a retired general who heads the country’s disaster-response agency.

One house collapsed in southern Cagayan de Oro city, on the main southern island of Mindanao, killing a 54-year-old woman and injuring her 5-year-old grandson, who was being treated in a hospital, said the city’s mayor, Vicente Emano. 

The quake set off car alarms, shook items off shelves and sent many coastal residents fleeing for high ground before the tsunami alerts were canceled.

“It was very strong. My house was making sounds,” Bemruel Noel, a member of the Philippine House of Representatives, said in a telephone interview from Tacloban city on the eastern coast of Leyte island, where the quake set off a small stampede of residents. 

“You talk to God with an earthquake that strong,” he said.

Tacloban resident Digna Marco said the quake toppled a figurine on top of her TV set and that her son had to hold their desktop computer to prevent it from falling to the floor. The lights over her dining room were swinging, she said.

The quake knocked out power in several other towns and cities across the central and southern Philippines, though it was restored in some areas later in the day, according to rescuers and local radio reports.   

“My neighbors and I have evacuated. We are now on our way to the mountains,” fisherman Marlon Lagramado told The Associated Press before the warnings were lifted, in a telephone interview from the coastal town of Guiwan in the Philippine province of Eastern Samar.

Tsunami warnings were issued in Northern Samar, Eastern Samar, Leyte, Southern Leyte, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur and residents in coastal areas were advised to move to ground at least 33 feet higher than sea level, volcanologist Jane Punongbayan told local radio dzMM.

“The quake lasted long and there was panic,” Surigao del Norte Governor Sol Matugassaid on radio dzMM.

The quake cracked roads and bridges and cut power in some areas, Northern Samar province Governor Paul Daza said on dzMM radio.

It lasted for about 45 seconds and electrical posts in the Borongan in Eastern Samar shook, provincial police director Superintendent Emmanuel Cubillo said by phone. Police are still checking damage, he said.

The region was also hit by a number of aftershocks, including one with a preliminary magnitude of 5.5 that struck about 9:15 p.m. local time, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Philippines has been battered by natural disasters in recent months, killing dozens of people and sparking criticism of President Benigno Aquino’s handling of the crises. The nation was hit by an earthquake that killed at least 48 people and triggered landslides that left dozens more missing in February. That 6.8-magnitude temblor struck the Negros and Cebu region and damaged bridges and roads and shut offices, schools and malls.

The Philippine archipelago is located in the Pacific “Ring of Fire” where earthquakes and volcanic activity are common. A magnitude-7.7 quake killed nearly 2,000 people in northern Luzon Island in 1990. 


The Associated Press and Bloomberg News contributed to this story

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